I’m convinced there’s something in the Belgian water supply that makes its filmmakers see and think a bit differently than the rest of us. Too often lumped in with their neighboring French directors, those who make movies in Belgium seem to have set themselves the goal of cinematically forcing us to cock our heads to one side in order to even begin to grasp what they’re up to. Case in point: the writing/directing team of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, Amer) and their latest work, Let the Corpses Tan, which might be the single coolest title of any horror movie ever.
Whereas their first two films took a great number of surrealist cues from the Italian horror makers of the late 1970s, throughout the 1980s, Cattet and Forzani’s latest seems heavily influenced by the Italian Westerns and crime movies of the ’60s and ’70s, and they have constructed something that is so visceral that you can feel the heat, smell the sweat, and experience every body blow and gun wound on display. On paper, Let the Corpses Tan is actually a fairly simple heist movie. A group of thieves, led by a man named Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara), steal some gold bars and plan to hide out in a remote villa on the cliffs of the Mediterranean, owned by Luce (the great Elina Löwensohn, recently seen in The Apparition), a mature female artist who still enjoys the pleasures of the flesh with her husband and other admirers staying at the expansive home.
Thanks to some truly groundbreaking cinematography by Manuel Dacosse, the use of artificial colors (reds, blues and especially gold) in nearly every frame makes it clear if the mood of each scene is meant to be sensual, angry or peaceful (things are rarely peaceful). The way the filmmakers make certain we’re always hyper-aware of the exact time of each scene makes it easier to track and backtrack the action, so we know the geographic location of every player and who’s on whose side at any given moment (loyalty isn’t a big thing in this group).
Eventually a pair of motorcycle police arrive, and that’s when the bullets start flying and chaos reigns. Unless I missed a major time jump, the entire film takes place in the course of about a full day, but so much is packed into that timeframe that it’s virtually impossible to keep track of where everyone is in the vast structure or who is alive, dead or injured. At a certain point, all that stops mattering as the movie becomes a creature of sheer expression rather than story.
As the title of the film implies, everything in Let the Corpses Tan (based on a classic novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette) feels impacted by the sun and its blistering heat—skin looks cracked and leathery, the ground is dry and pulling apart from lack of water, and by the final round of explosions and gunfire, everyone’s brains seem caught in a heat-induced fever dream, to the point where no one knows what is real and what is delusion.
We get the sense at the beginning of the film that this seaside location was once a place where orgies and loving sexual experimentation was commonplace, but by the time the movie is done with us, we’re left only with orgies of death and bloodbaths in every corner of the frame. This is a bizarre and thrilling exercise in horror filmmaking that may not be for everyone, but if you try to see as many scary movies as you can, Let the Corpses Tan feels like something original and exciting.
The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.
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